Captain's Log: Interview with Star Trek Online's Christine Thompson, part two

STO Cryptic headquarters sign
Loyal Massively readers will know that just after the launch of Star Trek Online's first expansion, the Legacy of Romulus, I visited Cryptic Studios and met with several members of the Star Trek Online development team.

This week I'm picking up where I left off in my conversation with Star Trek Online's lead writer, Christine "CrypticKestrel" Thompson. Join me past the jump to see what more she had to say about the challenges of writing within accepted canon as well as creating a more personal tale for STO players.

STO Of Bajor
Beginning from where I left off last week, I asked Thompson a few questions sent to me by Massively readers. The first came from Justin Lowmaster, who wanted me to convey that he was so taken with the Romulan tale that he had not only created a new Romulan character but blogs as that character and has given him a very detailed background. "I really love the depth of the new stories," he wrote, "So what are some of the things you really love about telling your Romulan stories?"

Thompson responded that she felt she had a little more freedom with the story arc with the new Romulan faction as every player's character starts from the same position -- as a member of a colony of survivors of the destruction of the Hobus supernova, which destroyed the planets of Romulus and Remus. Because there is such species diversity in both the Federation and Klingon factions, she couldn't really write character-specific dialogue between a player's captain and her crewmembers before the expansion. What a Trill crewmember might say would differ greatly from what a Vulcan might say. No personal tales could be interwoven into the existing Federation faction easily, and it took an enormous effort from Executive Producer Daniel Stahl and others to flesh out a more personal tale for the Klingon faction when they completed the first 24 levels of Klingon play.

STO Jem'Hadar Bug ship
Thompson told me she expected to receive some flak for her creation of the NPC character and Romulan first officer, Tovan Khev, because he was so very different from the bridge officers on the Federation side. Yet she said she has received a lot of positive feedback from the playerbase expressing their satisfaction with the more personal storyline she was able to achieve by using Tovan as a morale-sounding-board for the player's captain. Being able to give the player an additional "voice," even a voice that disagrees with the player's actions from time to time, was something she had always hoped she would be able to do. She wrote him in such a way that he would "back the player 100%," but he's also present to pipe up whenever he thinks the player is "screwing up." As she put it, "He's a good first officer!"

Thompson was also taken with the idea that there are players who are blogging about or as their characters. She said, "The coolest thing about working on an MMO is seeing what the players do with it. Whether it be roleplaying or blogs or Foundry missions... taking that framework we've made and just expanding on it -- it's amazing! I love it!"

STO Ganalda
Thompson admitted that hearing that her work has actually inspired others has been a little intimidating. In fact, the first time she saw her work outlined on the wiki, Memory Beta, it "freaked [her] out a little bit." She says that when she does play the game on the Holodeck server, she takes a great deal of joy in watching others and has even anonymously joined in on a couple of RP groups just to see where they're taking the story. She even took pride in being told her she had a good background for her (again, anonymous!) character.

For the curious, she told me she is currently playing a Romulan engineer. She has two max-level Fed characters and one max-level Orion science officer on the Klingon side. When I asked her with which side she chose to ally her Romulan character, she told me that it is allied with the Federation, but she explained the choice was strictly "for the ships."

KDF symbol
The conversation turned to the Klingon faction. Thompson reiterated that Daniel Stahl and content designer Matt Miller were mainly responsible for the new Klingon story arcs. She said the only thing she did was come in later in the process to smooth out the kinks. She was impressed by how their work fit so well within Star Trek canon, how they brought in a canon character (Alexander), and how they tied so many loose threads together in a way that made sense. And she was excited to see that the new tutorial was "so Klingon" in its progression.

Next up we had a question from reader Nick Minecci, who asked, "Whose idea was it for [the player's character to be the one to take out Hakeev's eye?" After laughing, Thompson recalled that it was mostly her idea as a way to clarify that Hakeev was not a liberated Borg. She had been asked on so many occasions if his character was supposed to be a liberated Borg due to his eyepiece that she wrote the loss of his eye into the story script to settle the issue once and for all. She also admitted that it didn't hurt that the action turned into a great personal issue between the player's character and Hakeev.

TOS bridge
Thompson explained that she had originally planned a "huge" showdown between the character and Hakeev that would result in the loss of his eye, but as it goes in MMO development, the creation of such a showdown would have required the creation of at least six new custom animations that the team simply didn't have the time or the budget for. As is often the case, the team found a way to effectively tell the tale within the time and the budget available.

Along that thought process, Thompson recalled that she listened to the commentary on one of the Star Trek films directed by Nicholas Meyer, who said something akin to, "Limitations cause creativity." She said maxim that stands very true for game design as well. She says they often have to make scenarios work within their engine, and when they work well, we end up with missions like Mind Games.

Thompson stated they started working on the Legacy of Romulus expansion in December of last year and worked on it constantly right up until launch. Cryptic had to give a period of time for QA to assure stability of the new material, and on the last day that she could do "check-in," she was still completing voice-over recordings.

I told Thompson that I am currently playing a Reman character in the game and that I was surprised that the dialogue I have come across didn't make me feel as though my character was separated from the story. I asked her if she found it a challenge to create dialogue that could cover both Romulan and Reman survivors. To my surprise, she told me that the reason so much of the dialogue seemed to cover a Reman player so well was because she "finally" got the capability to create dialogue by species. Because of that, depending on the player's species and whether the dialogue is available, a customized dialogue box can be triggered.

STO Bortas'qu
Finally we discussed the term "canon." I asked her whether she found writing within accepted Star Trek canon, and even the canon of STO that she and others at Cryptic have created, was limiting in any fashion. Thompson denied that it was creatively limiting, but she did say that she found that it could be technically challenging. As an example of such a challenge, Thompson told me about a time when she had forgotten about a key piece of STO lore she wrote for The Path to 2409 in regard to the incident at Khitomer. She said that QA had found the error, and they were able to get the actor to re-record the dialogue affected. Ultimately, Thompson said that Star Trek canon was "absolutely one of the best sandboxes in the world in which to play."

I'd like to thank Christine Thompson for her time and generosity when I visited Cryptic. Next week, (unless big news surprises us all), we'll chat with the art team. Until then, live long and prosper!

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This article was originally published on Massively.